The Bio-Clocks that Predict Your Death – So You Can Live Longer
One scientist is studying ways to measure aging – and your remaining lifespan and healthspan.
The goal is not to tell your fortune, but to discover how to accurately evaluate medicinal and lifestyle ways of prolonging good health – and life itself.
As you know, there’s a lot of controversy and disagreement in both conventional and alternative medicine about diet, exercise, supplements and other subjects. What are the optimal ways to prolong the onset of old age, chronic diseases and death itself?
Researchers carry out studies, but studies take lots of money. And if your research is not about a new western medicine to make Big Pharma billions of dollars, that’s difficult.
Time is even more critical. A truly “scientific” study on how to increase human lifespan would include beginning with large numbers of children. You can’t control their lifetime participation and lifestyle choices. And, even if you could, by the time you learned what is most likely to help them live past 100 – the original researchers would be long dead of old age.
Therefore, science needs an efficient and effective way to measure the progress of the aging process.
Again – the goal is to discover what really works. What is the optimal lifestyle for human health and longevity?
Dr. Steve Horvath has come up with the Horvath Epigenetic Aging Clock, and is working on new, more sophisticated versions of it.
Epigenetics Means Your DNA is NOT Your Destiny
Epigenetics is a new scientific discipline that studies our genetic expression.
Gene “expression” is a new term in biology. We’re used to thinking we got our genes from our mother and father – and they’re fixed.
They can’t be changed, but we all have many genes that may – or may NOT – be expressed.
We all have a mix of healthy genes and unhealthy genes.
Your health is largely determined not by how many healthy genes you “have” – but how many of your healthy genes are being expressed.
And by how many of your unhealthy genes are NOT expressed.
And – unless you change your behavior – which genes you’re now expressing will play a major role in when you die.
Basically, Dr. Horvath is coming up with ways to measure this gene expression through DNA methylation – and then relate it to known statistical risks, especially of chronic diseases.
His clocks measure biological age, as opposed to chronological age. We all want to be biologically younger than our years.
Having parents who lived a long time is still a good thing, however. Dr. Horvath estimates genetic inheritance contributes about 40% to your odds of dying at a younger or older age.
The Organ Tested Matters
Dr. Horvath usually measures the DNA methylation of blood cells, since blood is quick and easy to get a sample of.
But he’s noticed interesting differences between organs.
For example: the blood of women who received postmenopausal hormone treatments showed no slowdown in their aging.
But when he tested cells from the insides of their mouths, he found aging there did slow down for those women.
One Small Clinical Trial
Dr. Horvath and colleagues gave nine volunteers growth hormone and two diabetes medications for one year.
During that period, they lost on average 2.5 biological years.
Wouldn’t we all like to be 2.5 years YOUNGER – twelve months from now?
Clearly, a lot more research needs to be done.
The transplanting of blood from young people into older people may slow down epigenetic aging – but of course, is not yet approved by the FDA, and probably never will be. But you can read stories about the experiments.
Reprogramming your pluripotent stem cells may also slow down epigenetic aging. That seems to hold great promise for future developments.
According to Dr. Horvath, his clock validates “everything your grandmother told you.”
Based on what he’s discovered so far:
* Eat vegetables
* Reduce alcohol consumption
* Don’t smoke
* Take Vitamin D
* Take Omega-3 – he disputes a recent study showing no benefit to Omega-3 supplementation
* Get plenty of high-quality sleep
One major risk factor to avoid: obesity.
Excess weight greatly speeds up biological aging in blood – and even more so in your liver.
Your epigenetic age increases 3.3 years for every 10 BMI points.
The Final Lesson
Even if you weren’t smart enough to choose supercentenarian parents (people who live to age 105 or older), you still have a shot at reaching that goal yourself.
Healthy lifestyle habits do, over time, cause healthy genes to be expressed – and unhealthy genes to be suppressed.
And, in the future, medical science may well come up with reliable ways to turn back our biological clocks.
This research needs a lot more money, however. If you happen to run a life insurance company, think of the financial advantage you’d have if you could know with great certainty how long new policy applicants were likely to live. You could much predict their lifespans much more accurately than the standard statistical expectations based on sex, age and race.
NOTE: The Horvath Clock and other epigenetic clocks are not yet being used by doctors to “predict” when you’re likely to have a heart attack or cancer. That may come in the future, however.